Friday, March 14, 2014

New Supreme Court justice Rhonda Wood plays loose with facts on her campaign money

Posted By on Fri, Mar 14, 2014 at 10:11 AM

click to enlarge JUDGE'S LIPS MOVE: Truth doesn't come out from Rhonda Wood, headed to Arkansas Supreme Court.
  • JUDGE'S LIPS MOVE: Truth doesn't come out from Rhonda Wood, headed to Arkansas Supreme Court.
The Log Cabin Democrat, which has also been breaking news about local Judge Mike Maggio's misdeeds and financial funny business, has a story today that notes the heavy influence of nursing home money, particularly from Michael Morton of Fort Smith, on judicial races, particularly in Faulkner County. The article gives reason to doubt the credibility of Judge Rhonda Wood, who drew no opposition to her candidacy for a seat next year on the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The Cabin story, unfortunately, is behind a pay wall. But in recounting the tidal wave of nursing home money to candidates Rhonda Wood, Michael Maggia, Troy Braswell, Doralee Chandler and David Clark, came this quote from Wood:

“I received approximately $70,000 in contributions from the medical community. This is less than 50 percent of my $152,000 in contributions. It is not surprising that the medical community has always supported me as I practiced health law, taught health law, teach continuing education courses in this area, and I am married to a physician. As to Michael Morton, he contributed the maximum of $2,000. I have no knowledge of which nursing facilities he has an ownership interest in. My decisions are solely based on law and nothing else.”

In theory, judicial campaigns are run independently of the judges. Anybody believe most judges don't know who contributes to them and who doesn't? Ask a lawyer.

Nonetheless, here's some cursory fact checking on Rhonda Wood, who's  led the vanguard of Republican judicial candidates who are effecting a quiet GOP-based, business-lobby-friendly takeover of the nominally non-partisan judiciary.

Medical community?

Less than half?

Here are the facts:

In Wood's first campaign report, the all-important opener, she reported $132,000 in contributions. Of those $76,000 came from nursing homes or related nursing home management companies or individuals. It is true that she subsequently raised about $20,000 more. So, her direct nursing home contributions (not counting lawyers and other individuals unknown to me who might have nursing home connections, too) might be just a hair shy of 50 percent from nursing homes in the $152,850 she's raised. But among other unknowns, there's a $2,000 contribution from an out-of-state property management firm that arrived at the same time as some nursing home contributions. It could be yet another nursing home-related contribution.

UPDATE: Wood also got $2,000 from Sen. Eddie Joe Williams' PAC. His PAC was partially funded by $5,000 from, who else?, Michael Morton. 

Of the concrete total clearly from nursing home businesses, $49,000 came from nursing home enterprises in which Michael Morton is an owner, director and recipient of more than $12,500 a year in income, according to his publicly filed statement of financial interest: These cover enterprises in Atkins, Barling, Booneville, Cabot, Conway, Dardanelle, Fort Smith, Greenbrier (yes, THAT one), Hope, Lamar, Little Rock, North Little Rock, Russellville, Sherwood and WhIte Hall. You can see them all here.

Owners of other nursing homes or related companies, clearly identified as such on Wood's campaign reports, provide another $27,000. 

Medical community?  Really?

Yes, the Arkansas Medical Society added $250, along with a number of Little Rock lawyers who defend malpractice cases and, of course, the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, ever on the lookout to help the "medical community" from damage awards. But look to that first $130,000 report for the influence of Wood's husband's medical profession and her own health care work. It contains the grand total of one (1) contribution from a doctor, for $500. Ok. There was also one dentist.

Medical community? Really? And here's her supplemental $19,000 contribution report. It's nearly all from lawyers. Not a doctor on it.

Medical community? Really?

Plaintiffs have a rough ride coming from Judge Wood. Also the truth.

PS — It's a good time to remember the op-ed by David Stewart, former head of the judicial ethics agency in Arkansas, who wrote about corporate influence on judicial elections and the ill effects of the Citizens United ruling. Cold comfort that he was exactly right.

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